renewed my aws solutions architect associate certification

Almost 3 years ago, I earned my AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification. This past week, I took the exam again and passed in order to renew that certification for another 3 years. I drive about 90 minutes to my preferred Pearson VUE exam location, but this time I had to make the 90 minute drive back without knowing my exam outcome. Amazon now reviews things afterwords. I received no email yet, but within 24 hours my Exam History section on their certification portal was updated with my outcome. AWS has given me scores immediately on my last three exams; the technology exists, so give me a score right away and review things later to make it official if you need to. Anyway!

I did not study as much as I wanted or should have this year. I hadn’t intended to take the exam in October, but at the start of the month when I looked for times to book, my preferred venue had all sorts of times in October, and none at all in November or December. So, I snap booked as far out as I could, and got to work studying. Unfortunately as timing would go, Wild West Hackin’ Fest occurred which I not only attended virtually, but took some intense training in the first few days as well. I’ll come back to this later as notes to my future self 3 years from now.

Last go around, I used A Cloud Guru courses, Linux Academy courses (namely Adrian Cantrill’s excellent course), and practice exams from Jon Bonso (Tutorials Dojo). Since then, the landscape has changed as both Linux Academy and A Cloud Guru have been swallowed up by other players, and more honesty has been openly shared about the latter’s quality of offerings. (I really wasn’t terribly impressed 3 years ago, but ACG seemed to be everyone’s darling at the time.) This year I also have access to many Udemy offerings for free through my employer.

I started out purchasing and going through Jon Bonso’s Tutorials Dojo SAA-C03 course on his own platform. I loved his practice tests 3 years ago, so I figured I’d also do his course. In retrospect, this course wasn’t right for me, nor did I enjoy the platform. The platform doesn’t give me a good idea how long the whole course or sections are, and the player never saved the speed settings I preferred (1.25x-1.5x speed). The course itself was also…for lack of a better way to put it…not filling enough of my knowledge taste. Lots of slides. There is something to be said about even watching someone else use the AWS console to do things, which helps show the features and settings in more context. There was very little of that in this course.

Next, I started doing the set of SAA-C03 2022 Practice Exams on Tutorials Dojo. These are still absolutely excellent. Previously there were 6 exams, but now there seem to be 6 timed ones, 6 that show the answer as you go, and several other topical sets. There are times where it feels some questions reappear from one test to another, but I still feel these are the best practice questions that reflect both the subjects and the feel/style of the official AWS questions. Highly recommend.

Lastly, I went through most of the Udemy course, Ultimate AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate SAA-C03, by Stephane Maarek. This is a phenomenal course that I absolutely loved. I have nothing bad to say about it at all. I love that Stephane goes through the materials, but then also goes through many of the services and concepts hands-on in the console where we get to see him build things and tear things down such that we could do these in our own AWS Accounts if we want to. I made it about 50% through this course and focused on my weaker areas.

And that was all the time I found I had to study, which left me rather worried and feeling less prepared than I prefer to feel for exams like this.

For future me, here’s my suggestions. First, schedule early even months out. This provides the most flexibility to study appropriately while also allowing plenty of time to do all the practice tests and really get used to the topics over time. Normally, I am very good about this and my planning, but this year has been hectic. Second, look up these authors (in any order) and take their courses: Adrian Cantrill, Stephane Maarek, Neal Davis, Jon Bonso (practice exams). Maarek and Davis also have practice exam sets, but I did not get a chance to sample them. Third, look at the AWS exam guidelines and scope document, but do not get distracted by new and specialized services. Keep focus on the core important services. You’re far more likely to get 5+ questions on Lambda than on AWS Polly. For the latter, know their elevator pitch, purpose, and if there are sub-services to know. Fourth, do practice exams every few days if possible. Don’t go through any a second time, as that is just an exercise in memorization/recall of specific questions. Amongst the authors above, there are *months* of practice exams to consume for relatively little cost. Do them, and the real exam will feel like a familiar place.

I think I said it before, but I’ll say it again this year: I feel that every single question on the exam is directly sourced from either the AWS official documentation or from the AWS blogs/whitepapers which cover using services, service features, or designing for certain use-cases/situations. And while that may seem obvious, it bears repeating to let that sink in: read the things. Also, any hands-on whether it’s watching someone else or doing it yourself in a lab or for your own personal or work stuff is necessary in order to see features and settings in context and in action. I mean, this certification is meant for people with 1+ years experience in the role!

Next up is renewing my AWS Security Specialty certification, and then in 3 years deciding what to renew or advance.